by Nathaniel Buckingham

2nd Place – Flash 405, February 2020: “Bright Spot”


Ursula wants to rip the teddy bear from her eight-year-old daughter’s hands. Tear it until cotton tumbles to the floor. Pluck its insides out. Send cloudy intestines puffing to the living room carpet, the entryway tile, the postman’s ruddy face and mustache as he turns to leave.

Bury its fuzzy carcass out back inside the cardboard box it came in. The box peeking from behind the peeling white door. The door. Bubbling paint rewinds to sleek wholeness, a glossy reminder of fifteen years Dr. Glass helped barricade from memory.

Afternoons spent pumping bike pedals until the sun slanted behind the horizon. Stomach growling—she’d imagine it as an empty cave—and yet, still cycle, even as the cypress trees blurred to fingers in the dark. Avoid the house. Wait for the blue television room light to wink out. Then, tiptoe to the bedroom and huddle under stitched quilts. Tense at every creak in the wood. Wait, dreary-eyed, for a caverning of her mattress, the hand on the blanket.

“Mommy.” Darby holds up the bear, grins. A new front tooth is wriggling into the black gap in her mouth. “Grandpa sent me a bear!”

Dredging up a smile is like pulling water from a well, but Ursula does it. She holds out her hand. “Why don’t you go ride your bike around, and I’ll throw the bear in the laundry so he’ll be clean when you get back, okay?”

“Okay.” Darby hands the bear over, pivots, then skips to the cruiser, pink tassels flipping in the breeze, lying askew in the trimmed grass.

“Be safe!” Ursula calls out. Darby tosses her a look—half pouty-lipped frown and half raised eyebrow—as if to say, “I can handle myself,” before she swings a leg over her bike and pedals away. As she veers right out of the yard, the post-truck stutters to life. They ride off parallel—Darby winding along the sidewalk, truck crawling speed-limit beside her. The truck is big, and blocks the sunlight from reaching her, so she becomes a tiny specter engulfed in boxy shadow.

Ursula takes the bear to the kitchen, already thinking of ways to tell her it had escaped back into the woods.


Judge’s Comments:
This was perhaps the darkest entry I read. Although it may be difficult to find the bright spot in a work about child abuse, I think it’s in the destruction of the toy bear. The speaker metaphorically takes back some control of her life that she did not have as a child by destroying a plush bear that her abusive father sent to her daughter. The newfound control and the ability to protect her young daughter turn something seemingly dark into something new and hopeful.

Nathaniel Buckingham won 1st Place in the MCC Creative Writing Contest for Fiction, 2nd Place in the Maricopa District Contest for Poetry, and his work has been published in Sixfold and Passages. When he isn’t dying from the Arizona heat or a severe lack of inspiration, he can usually be found rewatching Portrait of a Lady on Fire, working toward his MFA, or accidentally winning writing competitions.


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